Episode 9: 'Just Do Your Best' - And Other Things They Don't Wanna Hear.
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Ever said to your teen, in an effort to try to keep them calm or relieve the pressure when it comes to exams and assessment: “Just do your best”
or “The results don’t matter, it’s the effort you put in that’s important”?
If so, listen in because I'm sharing my experience of how this phrase can actually do more harm than good.
And I tell you exactly what I now say and do INSTEAD to reduce their stress and give them more experiences of success.
You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teen Podcast, episode 9 - and if you’ve ever said to your teen, in an effort to try to keep them calm or relieve the pressure when it comes to exams and assessment “Just do your best” or “the results don’t matter, it’s the effort you put in that’s important” then this episode is for you.
Hi VIP’s, today I want to share with you something that I talked about in our recent 5 day Parent Facebook Group: the 5 Step Plan For Parents of Teens Aiming HIGH in Exams, because I know from the comments and emails I received, that this issue and the perspective I shared on it, really resonated with so many of the parents there and has made them think differently about how they support their teens in their study and how they go about trying to alleviate some of the pressure and stress that they often feel.
And this whole theme actually follows on really nicely from the last episode - episode 8, Parent Vs Coach, so be sure to listen to that one after if you haven’t already.
So let’s talk about that phrase - Just Do your Best.
I’ve said it to students, my parents said it to me. And chances are at some point you’ve said it - or something similar to your teen.
It comes from a really positive and good place - it’s coming from the fact that you love your child no matter what, that their worthiness is not attached to the numbers or letters on their assessments or report card, their future career and success are not dependent on whether they get a certain grade or not.
But, I want to share with you why I do MY best to not say it to students any more since I started seeing the sneaky not-so-great effects it can have on students - especially those who ARE trying their best.
Because that phrase - just do your best, or other variations like ‘it’s not about the result, it’s just about putting in your best effort’, or ‘it doesn’t matter what result you get, as long as you try really hard’ can actually do the opposite of creating a good work ethic or keeping up their motivation.
Now stick with me here and I’ll explain how I’ve seen this happen and why.
The problem is that “Just do your best” is coming from an underlying belief that great results come at the expense of a great life balance. That achieving top grades means lots of stress, and studying into the small hours, sacrificing their mental health, giving up hobbies and time with friends.
Now, I’m not saying that great results don’t require hard work. BUT I know that every student can study more strategically and efficiently than they are right now.
(And I say that from a place of being true for me too. As a student for sure - I definitely didn’t study in the most effective ways).
And it’s no wonder that we might have that belief. There is plenty of evidence for this - Experiences that have shaped and strengthened that belief that great results mean sacrificing other important things in life.
For a start, there are all the media reports of the stress and pressure on students today. The news stories around their mental health. And for good reason. This definitely is an issue for many teens.
And on a personal level, you might have seen your teen study REALLY hard for an exam or put in hours upon hours for a research project or essay or assignment, but then end up with a disappointing result. Whatever disappointing is for them. You might have thought it was a good result, but they had higher hopes or expectations. Or you might have both felt pretty deflated by it. Maybe even frustrated, perhaps a little confused.
Or, you may be in the situation where your teen is working really hard and is getting the top results they want. BUT now they feel like they have to keep up that level of work. They feel that achieving those results requires that amount of work, time and effort.
And so they’re afraid that if they take their foot off the gas, things will fall apart. And they’re worried that they’ll risk their grades dropping by changing how they study. Because this is all they know and it’s kind of worked for them so far.
And so of course, you’re concerned about how sustainable this is, for them to keep working at that level. Maybe you’re worried about burnout, or about the amount of sleep they’re getting, or the impacts on other areas of their life. I remember speaking with a dad of one of my 10WGT and coaching students before she started the program. His daughter was in Y9 - a high achiever, both academically and in athletics, with big goals and aspirations - but she was spending so much time on every assignment and working so many hours, studying so hard, he was like, if this is what life is like now, in Year 9, I can’t even imagine what things are going to be like once we reach the senior years.
And so, it makes sense that, if it really did come down to the choice of mental health and happiness OR amazing grades, of course you’d err on the side of the results don’t matter, just do your best, because - you also don’t want them to not care at all. You want them to give it their best shot, but you want them to not get too disheartened if it doesn’t go so well.
And that there is the problem with this idea of your teen just doing their best, no matter the results.
Because whilst I know that many parents do want their children to succeed in their study, so that they have as many options possible for them, to be open to them in future, what you want even more is for them to be confident. To have self-belief and pride. To be motivated and feel a sense of calm and happiness.
And fortunately or unfortunately, these are all linked.
When students achieve the result they wanted, when they get to feel that success, experience the sense of achievement that comes from working hard for something and then actually hitting their goals they feel proud of themselves, they believe in their abilities and those in turn increase motivation.
We are much more motivated to do something when we believe it will pay off for us.
AND when they know exactly HOW they did it, when it wasn’t down to luck or a fluke, it boosts their confidence. Because confidence comes from being successful and doing it in a controlled way, in a way that you can replicate.
But therefore likewise, this can also go the other way. There can be an upward positive spiral, or a downward negative spiral. Because when they put in their best effort, if they ‘do their best’, and they don’t get the result they wanted, then that can dent their confidence, it does the opposite of boosting their pride and self-belief. And yes, we can use these situations as opportunities to build resilience in your teen. For sure, that is SUCH an important character trait to have and to build and to practise. But if they keep getting up and knocked back down, working hard but not getting the results, and that happens multiple times, can we honestly expect them to keep working hard on every single task? Are they really going to want to keep putting in all those hours and hours of effort, if the results don’t show that it makes any difference?
Eventually their confidence and motivation are going to be eroded and we risk them either starting to give up, reducing and scaling back their goals for themselves, their aspirations. And we risk their motivation and work ethic declining. We risk them thinking that no matter how hard they try, they’ll never achieve the results they want.
I remember seeing this with a student many years ago when I was tutoring.
She’d achieved an A-. And yes, this was a great result, but she was still a little disappointed. She’d put in a ton of time and effort and really really wanted to get an A. And in one of our sessions, she asked me how to get the A. It wasn’t for an assignment that I’d actually set or marked for her. And I took a look through it and it really was a high quality piece.
I was disappointed that she was disappointed if that makes sense. She’d done a great job and I just wanted her to be delighted with that A-. I wanted her to be happy with it. And… I told her that. I said, oh my goodness, this is wonderful - you really should be really pleased with your result.
And here’s what I saw in her face.
She didn’t say it, but I saw it. She was even more disappointed, in fact, the right word is probably more like defeated. She took my response to mean that I didn’t believe she could do it. I was telling her to stick with the A- because there was no point going for the A. She wanted someone not to dampen down that fire and motivation she had inside of her, she wanted someone to say “You want an A? Awesome, I believe you can do it, let’s help you get it. Let’s figure out how to do it.”
And here’s what else was going on as well. I responded that way because I wasn’t totally sure how to help her get it. It wasn’t in my subject and I didn’t have the assessment and examiner experience back then that I have now. I didn’t REALLY know back then how to help her achieve those very top criteria in that particular task. And I think this is the same for so many parents. Understandably, they aren’t sure HOW to help their teen actually get the result they want. I didn’t have the expertise even as a teacher to do that outside of my subject area, how are parents supposed to do that across every subject your teen studies?! So instead of leaving them hanging with their disappointment, it feels like the way to try to make them feel better about the result they got, is to tell them the result doesn’t matter, it’s the effort that matters.Or they should be happy with what they got. Or as long as they did their best, that’s what’s important. And you know what? It doesn’t work. They don’t believe us. It doesn’t stop them still harboring that goal, that aspiration. Wanting to go after those results they really want.
So I’ll share with you how I go about it a different way these days. I can honestly say that experience with that student was one of the sparks that led me on this journey now. To find out exactly what students can do to achieve their goals and how to help them. Rather than saying, well how about we just be happy here… at this grade or level… now I’m all about - okay let’s see what we can do about that. Let’s figure out what skills or techniques or strategies are currently missing from that study toolkit, which ones are going to move the needle the most. Not because the result is going to define you, not because it’s critical to achieve the goal, but because there is value in going for the goal, seeing what you are truly capable of when you have the right systems, support, feedback and training. So if you’re wondering what to say instead of ‘Just do your best’, I recommend you do the same. Get curious, ask questions about what they think is going on, what they want and why. Where they’re at and how they can get there. Find out what the missing piece of the puzzle is.
And that’s why I not only put my all into training and coaching students to help make this happen, but also share so much of my information and strategies with you the parent. That’s one of the goals of this podcast. To help you figure out your teen’s missing piece or pieces of their study puzzle. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that you try to then tutor and train them in the skills - that’s what I created the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program and Next Level Coaching for, but just to help you see what might really be going on and know that there is solution - and see that your teen CAN have both - a healthy life balance AND amazing results.
And if you’d love for your teen to get the training, skills and strategies to have them maximising their return on effort, to have them actually knowing HOW to study smarter not harder and take action that will get them on the path to their goals then I want to invite you to enrol them into the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program. It’s the first step in the process of becoming skilled, confident and successful, and then they can if they choose, go on to become a Next Level Coaching member where they’ll action, apply and hone and automate these skills, techniques and strategies accurately, effectively.
So I hope you have an amazing week and here’s to going after goals - in a strategic and sustainable way. In a way that enables your teen to achieve HUGE success and have you BOTH enjoy the journey along the way.